Book Vs. Movie: The Eiger Sanction

eiger sanction by trevanianA few months back, my father-in-law, an avid reader who I often trade books with, passed me two novels by a guy calling himself Trevanian (real name Rodney William Whitaker) titled The Eiger Sanction and The Loo Sanction. While I wasn’t familiar with the author’s name (either of them), I did recognize the title from perusing the list of Clint Eastwood movies on Netflix and IMDb. Since my last two Ambitious Reading Lists turned out to be busts and I was looking for something else to read, I picked it up and gave it a shot. After finishing the book last weekend and then watching the film not long after, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to do another Book Vs. Movie post!

The Eiger Sanction, which was first published in 1972 follows the exploits of Jonathan Hemlock, a man who teaches art history by day, lives in an old, converted church with his illegal art collection by night and also “sanctions” (read: assassinates) people for an organization called CII when he needs some cash. A rough and tumble kid from the street who grew up without much of a moral code (read: sociopath), Hemlock made the easy transition into killing people for money. This book opens with another CII agent getting iced and Hemlock tasked with taking out the killer and his accomplice. Hemlock doesn’t want to do two jobs, so he takes the first one and assumes the second will go to someone else.

While on the way home from killing the actual trigger man, Hemlock meets a stewardess named Jemima who he takes home only to realize the next day that she was working for CII and stole the money he earned for the sanction. With his money gone, bills to pay and illegal paintings to buy, he’s desperate enough to meet with CII head Dragon once again and take a job that involves killing one of three men trying to climb a mountain called the Eiger. As it happens, Hemlock used to be quite a mountain man in his day and failed to traverse this mountain twice before. Caught between a rock and a hard place, Hemlock agrees to go on the mission, trains with his old climbing buddy Ben, who also happens to be the ground man for the Eiger climb and then heads to the location where he and the other climbers do their best to conquer the hill.

I had a great time reading this 350 page novel. It’s got a lot of espionage-like elements that reminded me of James Bond, but with a completely different character in the lead role. Instead of a charismatic ladies man, we’re dealing with a sociopath who kills in order to buy paintings, holds friendship as the highest form of social contract and only has sex for the release, not the pleasure. At the same time, it’s pretty fascinating to read about the Eiger, its history and the challenges Hemlock and his crew have on the mountain which wind up trumping the actual mission he’s on.

To get into SPOILER territory a bit, the plan is for Hemlock to find out from CII who his actual target is before having to climb the mountain. That doesn’t happen, so they all go up and the idea of killing someone falls to the wayside as the poo hits the fan and they must rely on themselves and each other to stay alive and get down after a storm hits making ascent impossible. In the process, one guy dies from a concussion mixed with the elements and the other two haphazardly fall off the mountain trying to get Hemlock to safety. This last was pretty out-of-nowhere and seemed a bit contrived as a way to keep Hemlock alive and kill off the potential targets which fulfills his mission. Later after Dragon credits him for killing all three possible sanction targets, Hemlock — SUPER SPOILER — figures out that his friend Ben was the other guy on the initial murder mission. What I liked about this reveal is that, when you look back at the book, there’s enough hints that you could have picked up on to figure out (though I did not), specifically when he ralphs after something intense happens on the mountain which reflects what happened on his ill fated mission.

Packed with enough twists, turns, intriguing characters and fun facts, The Eiger Sanction kept me reading at a pretty quick pace to the point where I was anxious to finish the book one night when I probably should have gone to bed earlier. It gets a big thumb’s up from me and I look forward to getting around to The Loo Sanction to find out what that one’s about. I’m going to jump in blind like I did with this one and hope for another great ride.
the eiger sanction poster

While reading the book, I tried casting Clint Eastwood as Hemlock in my head and it was a tough fit. Much as I love Eastwood as an actor, I had trouble seeing him as not only an art lover and professor but also a mountain climber teetering on the edge of sanity. Sure, that last part wasn’t so hard to put on the actor, but the combination didn’t match up with my vision of the actor.

And that was pretty much the case with the 1975  film version that Eastwood directed. He’s more of the brawling tough guy looking for justice and easily handled many of Hemlock’s one-liners, but he didn’t quite embody the character I had in my head. Since the time between my reading and watching the two versions was so close, I can’t quite judge whether Eastwood essentially created a different version of the character from the book and if that was successful. I just kept thinking of the differences between the two formats. On a similar note, while I love George Kennedy as Ben, I think they should have gone younger for both parts considering how intense the climb is supposed to be.

The comparisons between book and movie made up the majority of my thoughts while viewing the film. Certain bits of information are disseminated in earlier portions of the film, characters are cut out and elements are rearranged, none of which are bad in and of themselves. In fact, I thought cutting down the number of meetings between Hemlock and Dragon made a lot of sense. On the other hand, they changed a lot of the history between characters and what was going on with the CII missions to the point that I felt overly confused. The book itself wasn’t exactly mind-bendingly complicated, but it seemed like the movie version shook up the details along with the timing that information was revealed and just threw the results in the script.

The biggest problem with the film, though, is that the biggest point of the book’s finale, the mountain climb, doesn’t come off as epic as it should. Just like in Cliffhanger, it’s amazing to see humans climb a mountain. That footage will make me nervous any day of the week and looked fantastic as did the entire thing. But, in the book the climb is prefaced by telling us how dangerous it is even if the mountain isn’t overly tall. It then gets crazy as an insane storm rolls in. I understand that that would be difficult to film back then, but it all just seemed kind of fluffy to me. On a similar note, Hemlock doesn’t seem to spend nearly as much time with his team as he should have. We probably could have cut down on the beautiful, but not overly pertinent scenes of him flirting with and eventually bedding a woman named George while training with Ben.

On the other hand, the film does do a better job of keeping the target-related paranoia at a higher level on the mountain than the book. There are two scenes that hint at one of the fellow climbers as being a bad guy, but then they focus on actually surviving.

MORE SPOILERS. The movie version continues its kind of flat presentation by having Ben reveal to Jonathan that he’s the real target on the train ride back from almost dying. In the book he’s in the hospital and figures it out for himself, but in this case it’s kind of a casual conversation that ends without much fanfare or animosity which does make me think that the film features a different version of the Hemlock character that I’m just not as interested in because I’ve seen versions of that guy in this role played by that actor plenty of times before.

The whole time I read the book, I thought it would translate really well to the big screen. Unfortunately, I don’t think Eastwood’s version was the best film based on this source material. Maybe in a few years I’ll give it another look and see if it works on its own, but as an interpretation of Trevanian’s novel, not so much. If you’ve seen the movie without reading the book, drop me a comment and let me know how you liked it. I think I’m still too close to the source material, but maybe my problems were shared by others.

Audiobook Review: Jaws by Peter Benchley, Read by Erik Steele (1974)

jawes audiobookAlfred Hitchcock once said that you shouldn’t make a movie out of a good book. That’s what he supposedly did with The Birds and that worked out pretty well, right? Well, apparently Steven Spielberg did the same thing with Peter Benchley’s Jaws. The book, much like the movie, finds a resort town terrorized by a great white shark. Sheriff Brody, shark scientist Matt Hooper and grizzled fisherman Quint are the only three people willing to go out and put a stop to all this.

I spent most of the day listening to this book while doing work and watching our daughter and have to say, I was pretty bored. Things start off interesting, with Brody trying to figure out how to handle this unusual problem. While, in general, I think the movie is all around better than the book, I will say that the complexities of keeping the beaches open are more deeply explored in the book and make more sense than “the mayor’s a jerk.”

Speaking of the mayor, he’s a far more detailed character in the book, but I’m not sure if that’s such a great thing. The overall problem with the book is that it spends far too much time away from the shark. As you may or may not know, there’s an entire subplot the finds Brody’s wife having an affair with Hooper, whose older brother she dated in high school. There’s a whole dinner party scene and then one where they go to dinner. All of this took about an hour in audiobook form. AN HOUR! Even worse? It didn’t really have much to do with the story other than to make us feel a little better when SPOILER Hooper dies in his shark cage (something Spielberg was supposedly going to keep in the film version, but changed for a bit of a happier ending). At the end of the day, when you’re writing a book about sharks, write about sharks.

I know I shouldn’t be comparing the book to the film as much as I am, but it’s nearly impossible because I’m so familiar with the movie and it’s one of the best films ever made. Still, there are some interesting meta elements that I noticed while listening to the book. First and foremost, the movie kicked off huge interest in sharks that we’re still experiencing today. In a roundabout way, that makes the shark action in the book much easier to picture. In fact, with the ending, I was basically watching a slightly edited version of the film in my head while it was going on.

I don’t think Jaws is necessarily a bad book — it sold like gangbusters when it came out in 1974 — but I do think it’s a less focused version of this story than Spielberg’s. In fact, had the affair subplot been excised or shortened, I would have liked it a lot more. I even enjoyed some of the characters who aren’t in the movie like Hendricks and Meadows, though completely understand why the nicer version of Hooper in the film was able to carry a lot of their weight. At the end of the day, if you’re interested in both the book and the movie, I’d read the book first and then watch the movie, which is the exact opposite thing I would suggest if you’re interested in The Shining.

Finally, I absolutely loved Brody’s line, “I’ll never be as old as I feel today.” I feel like that at least three times a week.

Halloween Scene: The Shining (1980) & Room 237 (2012)

The Shining movie PosterHave you ever had a movie in your life that has built up such legendary status that you almost don’t want to watch it? Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining was like that for me, but not always. Back in high school I tried watching it a few times, but kept hitting roadblocks. One time, a bunch of us were watching it in a friend’s basement where we were sleeping over. I think we got to the bathtub scene when a friend started freaking out and demanded we turn it off. I begrudgingly obliged and it wound up being the kind of movie that got swept away.

As I mentioned when reviewing Stephen King’s book, I picked up a DVD copy of the movie last year, but still hadn’t gotten around to watching it until today and you know what? I kind of didn’t like it. Continue reading Halloween Scene: The Shining (1980) & Room 237 (2012)

ARL3: I, Robot The Illustrated Screenplay By Harlan Ellison & Mark Zug

i robot harlan ellison isaac asimov I can’t believe it’s been two and a half years since I read Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot for the first time. After finishing that book and doing some reading, I came to understand that renowned sci-fi writer Harlan Ellison wrote a screenplay that took the pieces of Asimov’s anthology and put them together with more of a through story, but it never got made. Reading a few more lines or paragraphs lead me to the realization that the script was made into a book with concept artwork by Mark Zug. After that I added I, Robot: The Illustrated Screenplay to my Amazon wish list and was lucky enough to get it for Christmas or my birthday, but it wound up taking quite a while for me to get around to it. I’m glad I added it to my third Ambitious Reading List because it got me to focus on this book that wound up being both a great story in and of itself, and a good introduction to Ellison (an author whose work I’m almost wholly unfamiliar with) and showed me how intricate and precise a screenplay can be.

Right away, I’ve got to say that this is not the easiest book to read. It’s in screenplay format which might be confusing if you’ve never read anything along those lines, but it’s also an incredibly dense screenplay packed with all kinds of jargon, some of which even I didn’t understand and I took a screenwriting class in college (though am in no way an expert). Also, since this is a futuristic story packed with all kinds of technology, you’re dealing with a lot of descriptions for ideas that might be hard to grasp at first. I found myself re-reading some  of the descriptions several times to get a good idea of what was going on. In those cases it helps to have Zug’s full color art in the center of the book and some of his sketches throughout the regular text.

Ellison’s tale revolves around Bratenahl, a reporter who finds himself driven by the idea of interviewing Dr. Susan Calvin, a robopsychologist whose work helped usher in the robot revolution that advanced humanity throughout the cosmos. At first he’s just covering a funeral and encounters the mysterious woman who most people would describe as cold and ultra-scientific, but he sees something else there. Encouraged by his editor to keep digging, Bratenahl winds up becoming obsessed with his quarry and her hidden story. That drive leads him to various locations all over the galaxy — teleportation is common place — which brings him in contact with people who tell him tales of Calvin, those stories are all found in Asimov’s book. The screenplay incorporates “Robbie,” “Runaround,” “Liar!” and “Evidence” as well as elements from the other tales.

I’m glad that I took a few years between reading the source material and digging into this adaptation because it was still able to surprise me. As I got into the first flashback sequence, some of the synapses in my memory started firing and I could remember little bits and pieces of what was possibly coming, but not everything altogether. I also kept remembering elements from the other stories and wondering if they would pop up, which added another layer of mystery and wonder to the proceedings.

arl3

Screenwriting is a form of writing that I’ve always been interested in and a format that I thought I knew pretty well before seeing how freaking amazing Ellison is at it. I’ve read things like Kevin Smith’s scripts as well as Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs and Christopher McQuarrie’s original The Usual Suspects screenplays and while those use the format to convey the story, the way that Ellison so completely understands the form and how to move the camera is just mind-blowing. So if you’re interested in seeing how well executed a screenplay can be while also getting in on a piece of sci-fi goodness that really needs to get made — I picture it as an animated movie, someone start a Kickstarter! — give I, Robot: The Illustrated Screenplay a look.

As far as the ARL3 goes, I’ve got to admit, I was struggling there for a while. Even with branching out to read Al Capp and The Totally Sweet 90s, it’s taken me a pathetic seven months to get through three books and realize that Elmore Leonard’s Riding The Rap just isn’t for me (at least right now). I’ve even started working on my next pile which has a few more books that I’m really interested in reading, but finishing the I, Robot screenplay has inspired me to stick with this one and see how things go. I’ve already moved on to Hunger Games which I’m about 60 pages deep into. It’s a pretty quick and easy read so hopefully I can keep that momentum going.

Casting Internets

My ridiculously talented friends over at Marvel.com made this awesome video starring Howard The Duck demanding Lucasfilm celebrate the film’s anniversary. As a longtime fan of the movie, I wholeheartedly agree.

Speaking of Marvel and Howard, Marvel.com ran this interview with the movie’s star Lea Thompson and it was pretty interesting. I dig her for sticking up for Howard…and also for Caroline in the City. Another ridiculously talented friend took there rad photos of the Expendables MiniMates out in the wild for the Art Asylum blog. I absolutely must get my hands on these figures.

I really, really, really want The Perks Of Being A Wallflower movie to be good. Please be good. I’m not sure what to think of this trailer I saw on THR though. Gotta read the book again.

I don’t live in the city, but I do hear a lot of the news living fairly close. The most recent infuriating bit of nonsense to come out of there is Mayor Bloomberg’s desire to limit the size of soda people can buy. Seriously? This is the biggest problem in the city at the moment? It’s not the government’s job to keep people skinny, so cut it out commie. This Economist piece paints it in a different view: the mayor doesn’t think poor people can handle making the decision to drink less soda on their own and need the government’s help. Bleh.

The Detroit News talked to Colbie Smulders, Joss Whedon and Sam Jackson about her role in The Avengers. Interesting stuff, especially what she did to train for the film on her own.

Jared Harris talked to THR about last week’s episode of Mad Men. I only read a few sites about the show, but have there been any “Down Memory Lane” posts? There should be.

Jeez, Anthony Bourdain is not slowing down. In addition to getting a book turned into a movie and moving from Travel Channel to CNN, he’ll also be judging a food competition show on ABC. Dude’s gonna be busy. (via Eater)

I love reading about cocktails, so this Esquire piece about the cocktails of summer definitely had me interested. I’m particularly excited to try that Scotch Whiskey Punch. That’s on my summer to-try list. There’s a new James Bond book called James Bond Unmasked with new interviews with all six Bonds. It will be mine, oh yes, it will be mine.

I am a gigantic fan of Fox’s New Girl, especially the ultra douche, but really a nice guy on the inside character of Schmidt played by Max Greenfield. As such, I enjoyed this LA Times interview with him.

I got a big kick out of watching The Totally Rad Show’s Alex Albrecht interviewing Snoop Dogg about the new Tekken for G4. Finally, this MC Escher Lego Star Wars diorama seen on io9 is just too damn cool.

Book Vs. Movie: I, Robot

Man, I, Robot is bad. I’m speaking of the 2004 movie starring Will Smith and directed by Alex Proyas, not the book which I liked even if it had a few flaws, as I talked about already. It’s kind of funny that my big complaint about the short stories by Isaac Asimov that make up the book were based on characterization because that was my biggest problem with the filmed version. Even funnier is that the film couldn’t nail the character of Dr. Susan Calvin who could be summed up in a few words: cold, calculating scientist. Bridget Moynahan’s interpretation of the character loses her cool so early on that she essentially becomes the damsel in distress, which is about as boring of a character as you can get.

The real problem with the movie is Will Smith. He’s ridiculously annoying in the movie as robot-hating cop Del Spooner (what a terrible name) as he spouts off awful dialog like “You have so got to die.” That kind of stuff works for younger actors, but Smith was roughly 34 when he shot this movie. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no Will Smith hater. I loved Fresh Prince, Independence Day and the Bad Boys flicks, but I, Robot smacks of an older actor not understanding what he’s really good at. One-liners aside, he’s just a generally unlikable character and doesn’t really give us much to latch onto aside from having a bummer of an experience that lost him an arm and resulted in the death of a little girl. Boo hoo, you don’t have to be a dick to everyone.

Smith and Moynahan aside, I really liked the rest of the cast. Bruce Greenwood, Chi McBride, Shia LaBeouf, James Cromwell and Alan Tudyk providing the voice and mannerisms for suspected murdering robot Sonny all do a great job, but even their greatness can’t make the two stars actually shine. In fact, their goodness really highlights how bad Smith and Moynahan are.

I guess I should talk about the plot. Cromwell plays a scientist who was supposedly murdered by robot Sonny. Smith’s on the case, but everyone, including his boss McBride, thinks he’s crazy because of the Three Laws of Robotics. Unconvinced, Smith keeps pushing which leads him to Greenwood’s robot-making company U.S. Robotics which employs Moynahan. As he keeps investigating, Smith uncovers a group of robots ready willing and able to hurt humans. The script was originally written as a completely different story, but got reformatted first to fit in with the Asimov mythology and then again for Smith specifically. I’d be curious to see how the original script compared and how many supposedly awesome moments added in by that last revision.

I don’t want this review to be completely negative, though. I found the movie to be generally boring and not super interesting, but there were some interesting moments. The overall plot was interesting and could have been, but wasn’t, set in Asimov’s world. Effects-wise, Sonny looks kind of amazing and when the robots fight each other, they don’t seem like people in robot suits fighting. On the other hand, the CGI doesn’t look great when too many robots are together. The one on one robot fight towards the end looked great, but the big battle at the storage units just seemed too fake.

You’ll notice I’m not complaining about how far away from Asimov’s book the movie is, most notably that it’s set on an Earth that has robots walking around (they were banned from being used on Earth in the books). I can understand not being able to make a movie based on the entire book. It would have been crazy expensive, though according to Wikipedia Harlan Ellison tried in the late 70s. Deemed too costly, the movie was shelved but the script was eventually published as I, Robot: The Illustrated Screenplay in 1994. I definitely want to check that out. I even like the idea of making a movie that would fit in with Asimov’s stories even if it didn’t directly draw from one of the actual stories, but that’s not what this is. Maybe someone with vision and some clout will come along and work their magic. I won’t be holding by breath.


Books vs. Movie: Diary Of A Wimpy Kid (2010)

As I mentioned earlier this week, I had a wonderful time reading the five Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, so checking out the movie was a logical next step. One of the questions I asked author Jeff Kinney when I interviewed him for MTV Geek about the latest volume was whether it was difficult coming up with actors to match his cartoons. He said something along the lines of trying to match the spirit of the characters to the actor and hopefully getting a close enough physical match. I’d say everyone involved with the Wimpy Kid flick did a pretty damn good job of it.

Zachary Gordon does a great job of capturing Greg’s innocent arrogance, Robert Capron nails Rowley’s youthfulness, Grayson Russell looks EXACTLY like Fregley and Devon Bostick works pretty well as Greg’s jerky older brother Rodrick. I wasn’t as sold on either of Greg’s parents though, Steve Zahn as Dad and Rachel Harris as mom just didn’t work for me. Zahn just doesn’t seem like dad material to me because I’ve seen and enjoyed him in movies like Saving Silverman, but more importantly–and offputting as a fan of the books–is that Mom and Dad don’t match up very well between the book and the movie. Even with Dad doing his weird Halloween ritual and Mom giving her speech about girly mags to Rodrick intact, there was something missing from the characters that I couldn’t quite place, but definitely felt.

I loved seeing the above gags in the film along with other parts like the trick or treating and ball-vs.-bike game, but one thing that Kinney mentioned to me that I think makes up the biggest difference between the books and the movie is that he tends to write gags that he links together whereas, with a movie like this, there has to be more of a story and plot put into place, which meant some things needed to be moved around, which I didn’t have a problem with. It’s the additions to the movie that left me scratching my head. For instance, I understand what the addition of the Angie character was supposed to show that not everyone needs to try and go for popularity, but as far as the story goes, she doesn’t really serve any purpose. I also didn’t like the mother/son dance scene because, very frankly, no one would applaud the weird synchronized dance Rowley did with his mom, especially a bunch of grade school boys.

Those complaints aside, I still liked the movie as a whole. I was pretty deep into liking it when they broke out with “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” which is one of the all-time greatest jams of all time. The almost-fight scene at the end of the movie between Greg and Rowley was hilarious, though I wasn’t a big fan of how they brought the older kids back in the middle of the day at a school and made Rowley eat the cheese (in the book, no one else is around). I’m also not a huge fan of Greg giving that big speech at the end of the book because I feel like that character wouldn’t do anything to risk losing whatever popularity he had by making a Mean Girls-like closing speech. But overall, it was fun to see a lot of my favorite gags from the book up on the big screen and I’m looking forward to future installments.

Anyone else catch the Wimpy Kid balloon at this year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade? At first I didn’t like the look of the character with his nervous-looking mouth, but then I got the joke: he’s supposed to be worried that his handlers are going to drop him. At least, I think that’s the joke. Anyone have a better idea?